Call for foreign staff to fill retail gap

RBA estimates have raised the level at which it believes full employment may drive up inflation.

RBA estimates have raised the level at which it believes full employment may drive up inflation. Photo: AAP

A shortage of retail workers is hampering Australian business after many re-opened from lockdown and there are calls for overseas workers to fill the void.

National Retail Association chief executive Dominique Lamb said many members were struggling to find staff to resume their regular trade and prepare for the Christmas rush.

“We absolutely have a skills shortage at this time. It’s proving to be getting worse,” she said.

The number of jobs ads reached a 13-year high in October, according to the National Skills Commission. While the survey covered all industries, the lockdown states had double digit increases.

Ms Lamb said many retail employers could not afford to retain workers during the most recent coronavirus lockdowns affecting the ACT, NSW and Victoria.

“We’ve seen retail workers become dissatisfied with the uncertainty,” she said.

“If you were not an essential retail worker, you still have to feed your family. These people have gone to other industries that are still able to trade or offer more consistency in work hours.”

The federal government’s JobKeeper wage subsidy, which helped employers retain workers, ended before the most recent lockdowns.

Cafes and restaurants makeup a sizeable part of the retail industry and have experienced the same problem.

Restaurant and Catering Australia chief executive Wes Lambert said reopening for many was bittersweet due to the staff shortage.

“There is a severe worker shortage in Australia and it needs urgent attention by the federal government,” he said.

He called for overseas workers to be allowed in to the country. Gaining Australian residency should also be made easier, Mr Lambert said.

“We are losing too many good workers to overseas markets,” he said.

However a representative for retail workers saw the problem differently.

Retail and Fast Food Workers Union secretary Josh Cullinan said the situation showed retail workers deserved better conditions.

“We haven’t got time for the crocodile tears of employers who dismissed workers during lockdown and now complain workers aren’t available,” he said.

He said some workers were choosing other industries such as disability support which did not have such as casualised workforce.


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